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Chargers in good position to strike

Another slow start has bogged down the San Diego Chargers, but the bright spot, as usual, is quarterback Philip Rivers.

Through three weeks, Rivers leads the NFL with 1,087 yards passing, and the Chargers rank No. 1 in total offense.

San Diego’s defense, which has allowed 272.7 yards per game and ranks No. 4 in the league, is not the problem, either.

A disappointing September for the Chargers (1-2) included upset losses at Seattle and Kansas City.

“The Chargers arguably outplayed both of those teams,” said handicapper Andy Iskoe (thelogicalapproach.com). “Special teams breakdowns were largely responsible for the losses.”

San Diego is a 9-point home favorite over Arizona today, and Iskoe said he expects Rivers to put up big numbers and cover the number against a Cardinals team that is lucky to be 2-1.

“The Chargers are still led by an elite quarterback, and the Cardinals are not,” Iskoe said.

Arizona’s Derek Anderson, the 24th-rated passer in the league, is not proving to be a great replacement for the retired Kurt Warner.

“The Cardinals were fortunate to beat Oakland last week, and the Arizona offense has been struggling and is diminished without Warner and (wideout) Anquan Boldin,” Iskoe said.

The scheduling spot, Iskoe said, is “very similar” to Week 2, when the Chargers were coming off a loss at Kansas City and returned home to rout Jacksonville, 38-13.

The scary part for San Diego could be the coaching matchup.

“Five words: Ken Whisenhunt versus Norv Turner. That might be the most compelling reason for taking Arizona,” said Iskoe, who analyzes the rest of today’s Week 4 schedule:

■ Denver at Tennessee (-6½): The Broncos have been one of the more prolific offensive teams in terms of yards, though it is a one-dimensional attack. Denver averages 417 yards, including 350 yards passing as quarterback Kyle Orton has looked sharp. But the Broncos have not been good on the road. I would play this over the total (43), and if I played a side, it’s a lean to the Titans.

■ Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-2½): I lean to the Steelers, who are outstanding on defense. The Ravens have not played to their potential on offense, and the fact their defense allowed 173 yards rushing to Cleveland is a little troubling. The total is 34½. Five of the past six games in this series produced at least 37 points, with four games in the 40s.

■ Cincinnati (-3) at Cleveland: Despite all the criticism Browns coach Eric Mangini gets, the players seem to buy into him. Cleveland has been competitive and has had the lead in all three losses. I would almost prefer to have Seneca Wallace start at QB instead of Jake Delhomme for the Browns, who have had a solid running game. This is a good spot for Cleveland to get the upset.

■ Detroit at Green Bay (-14½): I’m not thrilled with laying double digits, even though the Packers are explosive. The Lions have been scrappy, and they have not quit late in games. But I don’t have confidence that Detroit’s defense can slow Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense. I like this over the total (45½).

■ Carolina at New Orleans (-13): The Panthers have been decent defensively and horrible offensively. I’m not sure what we’ll see out of the Saints’ offense with running back Reggie Bush out and Pierre Thomas questionable. I have no intention of making a play on either side. If anything, I might look under the total (44½).

■ San Francisco at Atlanta (-7): I like the 49ers in this game because nobody likes the 49ers. There is talent on this team, and the defense has been OK. They are catching the Falcons off a satisfying win at New Orleans, so Atlanta might take this for granted. San Francisco should be highly motivated and playing with a sense of desperation.

■ Seattle (-2) at St. Louis: The Rams have shown some potential, and I like what I’ve seen from rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. Neither offense can sustain drives or make many big plays. The Seahawks were 1-7 on the road last year, but that win was at St. Louis. I would look under the total (40). It’s one of my weakest opinions on the entire card. If I took a side, I would lean to the Rams.

■ New York Jets (-5½) at Buffalo: A lot of people like the Jets, but maybe it’s a closer game than expected. The Bills are one of the weaker teams on the Jets’ schedule, so maybe the Jets, who have played three emotional games, come out a little flat. I’m looking for Buffalo to be competitive. I prefer the under (37). Four of the past six games between the teams produced 32 points or less.

■ Indianapolis (-7) at Jacksonville: The Jaguars will be an unpopular side because they have looked so poor the past two weeks. Jacksonville has lost four of the past five to the Colts, with the losses by 4, 2, 7 and 3 points. The Colts were involved in seven games last season that were decided by four points or less and won them all. The Jaguars should keep this competitive, but Indianapolis probably gets the win.

■ Houston (-3) at Oakland: I like the Texans. The loss to Dallas last week allows them to refocus. Houston is a more talented team even with wide receiver Andre Johnson banged up. Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski is not as good as the Texans’ Matt Schaub. I’m not crazy about what Oakland is showing on both sides of the ball.

■ Washington at Philadelphia (-6): Redskins coach Mike Shanahan will have picked quarterback Donovan McNabb’s brain about Philadelphia’s offensive and defensive philosophies. Shanahan could be the difference, and I don’t think his shrewdness can be ignored. The talk is all about the return of McNabb and the play of the Eagles’ Michael Vick. I’m going with the Shanahan factor. I like the Redskins.

■ Chicago at New York Giants (-3½): I have a slight preference for the Giants, even though there appears to be some internal problems on the team and a lot of their defensive deficiencies have resurfaced. The Bears are fortunate to be 3-0 because they really were outplayed in two of the games.

Compiled by Review-Journal sports writer Matt Youmans.

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